For the 30-something traveler and volunteer (me), there is something so nostalgic about college-age adventure. It wasn’t that long ago and yet, I remember the idealism and excitement as if they were things of the last century. It’s so easy to become jaded—to let the terrible things about the world into your heart. I don’t think of myself as cynical, but reading about the subject of today’s article has inspired me to take a good hard look at my tarnished optimism. There is no reason for it! Optimism is the product of positive change. It’s the result of standing up for something, of doing things yourself to get them done right. I spend a lot of time reading about volunteer companies. It’s a wonderful thing to read about because so many of them are designed to make the world better. Still, just like in any marketplace, there is often a very thinly veiled profit-incentive. This is fine, so long as the programs are well run, sustainable, and responsible, but it is refreshing to see a company that openly addresses this obvious and pervasive ethical quandary.
Operation Groundswell is a project by the people, for the people. It was founded by young idealists intent on creating a volunteer/travel organization that offered affordable, responsible opportunities for other young idealists. They are a non-profit organization. They believe in “investing in people before profits.” I don’t think I could like this idea any more. Their projects are six weeks long and, when compared with comparable programs, are very affordably priced. (Note: they also have programs for older volunteers, though their focus is definitely on the young.)
Their programs are all based on the principle of “backpacktivism,” traveling nomadically to see the world from the ground. Volunteers can choose from a wide variety of locations and opportunities: from Kibera, East Africa’s most populous slum, where volunteers experience community projects that promote peace through art, to Jerusalem, one of the most historically and theologically rich places on Earth, where volunteers work with Rabbis for Human Rights. Operation Groundswell has ongoing programs in Guatemala, Peru, Haiti, West Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia. Each project is rated (1-5) for physical exertion, volunteering, movement, and comfort (many of their programs look moderately physically strenuous, great news if you’d like to get in shape while you volunteer!).
Like most volunteer programs, travelers are required to purchase their own plane tickets. Try One Travel for discount airfare.